Lessons Learned in more than two years of cruising in Northern Europe

Lessons Learned in more than two years of cruising in Northern Europe

As DAUNTLESS finds herself now on the West Coast of Africa (Rabat, Morocco, to be specific), I thought now to be a good time to summarize some of the lessons learned during our 28 months in Europe. While many like living vicariously through my adventures, I’d like to suggest and offer more. For the Kadey-Krogen owner who wants to leave the beaten path and experience different cultures, people, and of course, food and drink, here is my perspective on cruising Europe.

First, you have already done the most important thing. You purchased a well-found boat. I cannot stress this enough. I have put my Krogen 42’ through its paces and it’s clear that we have a boat that was designed and built to do exactly what I am doing—traveling the world. If not for the design and build of a Kadey-Krogen, none of this would be possible.

There are a number of options to get your KadeyKrogen to Europe: Transport, a delivery captain and crew, or take it yourself. As many of you know, I made the trip aboard DAUNTLESS across the Atlantic, but what you don’t know is that I am not brave. I am afraid of many things. For example, no matter how hard I try, I am terrified of being in a dark forest. Even a little forest just 10 minutes from town. So, I have never criticized anyone for not wanting to get far from shore. If shipping your boat to Europe is the right thing for you, then ship it, but don’t let the belief that it is difficult to cruise Europe keep you away. Cruising in Europe is no more difficult than cruising the East Coast of North America, maybe easier.

Licenses – Not Needed, But…

Europeans put more emphasis on training and licensing than on enforcement. No one will ever stop your boat for a safety inspection. I’ve been approached twice on the open sea by a government vessel, once while anchored offshore in Spain during high winds, and once in the English Channel. In both instances, they were merely checking to see if I was okay because the weather was poor.

While they do emphasize licensing as important, nothing special is required when cruising from country to country. Wherever you are, the rules of your home country apply. I got my Captain’s and Master’s 100-ton license in part because I know the European fascination with anything official-looking! So far, I have never had to show it to anyone, nor have I been asked.

On regulated rivers and canals, like in the Netherlands, I had my one and only encounter with the police. It happened because the river Waal was running against us at five knots. There was no downstream or upstream barge traffic in sight, so I cut the corner of one of the big bends, just before our stopping place of Nijmegen. All of a sudden, a German barge came out of a side canal on the left, 300 feet in front of DAUNTLESS. They were turning right, to go downstream. A man was on the bow, presumably looking for traffic, and his wife was in the aft wheelhouse.

No Problem. DAUNTLESS stops on a dime, or certainly within 100 feet. I stopped. The barge was dead ahead at this point, crossing the “T” over my path. The man at the bow gestured for me to go in front of them, asking me to make a 45-degree turn and pass just in front of them. Why, I thought? No upside, and a whole bunch of downside. I gestured for them to continue on. I waited. Finally, the lady continued her turn, passed to my starboard and then gestured at me violently. Since the gestures were foreign to me, I had no idea what she meant. They pass, I passed her stern and continued on to my destination, now only two miles upriver on the right. Within 10 minutes, a Netherlands Police boat appeared and I knew instinctively that the woman complained about DAUNTLESS. They came up on my starboard side, and with someone on the bow (wingman position) I figured they wanted to talk to me. I put on the autopilot and slowed a bit.

About 20 feet away from each other, we proceeded to have a conversation.

“Greetings (always in Europe, no matter what),” said the officer. “Did you know you should be traveling on the right?”

I responded, “Yes, I know. Sorry, I will change it now. If this about the Germans, there was never any problem. I was not going to pass in front of them.”

“Okay, please make sure your radio is also on channel 13.”

“Okay, thank you.”

“Thank you.”

This whole interaction took not more than one minute. I appreciated that they informed me that I was on the wrong side of the river, and yet also tactfully acknowledged that the barge captain over reacted. Most importantly, they implied that I had as much right to be on the river as the barge, and that I knew what I was doing as much as the barge captain.

Another note on certification. If you are a U.S. citizen and paid cash for your boat, documentation with the United States Coast Guard is an optional form of registration and some form of state registration is mandatory. Outside the U.S., it is important to know that either USCG documentation or documentation with the federal government of another country, is required. My experience in Northern Europe is that it was asked for occasionally, and in Southern Europe it was asked for all the time.

Friendly, Too Friendly?

One peculiar thing I noticed is that boats seem to be much closer together. Even with hundreds of feet to spare, boats pass each other within a boat length. It seems to simply be the assumption that everyone knows what they are doing, and honestly, they do. I was too agog to get a picture, but in Stockholm Harbor, I saw a large cruise ship pass a sailboat within 50 feet, and on the other side of the sailboat, a kayak was about 20 feet way.

Everyone on the water is extremely friendly and helpful. Especially in Northern Europe, every place north of the English Channel, private boats are given the same respect as working boats. Working boats and fishing boats would wave. I’ve seen far more sour faces on fisherman on the East Coast than I have ever seen in Europe.

Also, rescue services (a.k.a. Lifeboat) are mostly volunteer, just like volunteer firemen in the U.S. Very responsive and professional, and no conflict between paid and government services. Should you run out of fuel in the middle of the Irish Sea, someone will come and tow you, probably even to where you need to go.

Spare Parts

Whether you go across on your own bottom or ship your Kadey-Krogen on a transport, there are some basic spares you should have, just in case. You probably won’t need them, but having a spare water pump or alternator will save time and money. Do not count on the ability to have stuff shipped anyplace outside the United States in a timely fashion. I spent about $5,000 on spare parts and in the last three years, I have not needed any of them. Yes, I have used some wires and switches, but nothing more. Be sure to bring water hose, pipe, fittings and couplings. Those things are harder to find, and for a hundred bucks you can get whatever you ever need at Lowe’s or Home Depot.

Fear Not The Media

Do not be affected by what you may read in the New York Times, and I’m saying that even as a New Yorker. Everyplace I went, EVERYONE wanted their picture taken with the American flag. The further east you go, as in ex-Soviet bloc, the more pronounced this is. When we were in Gdansk, it was like everyone wanted their picture taken before the Russians came back. We were in Gdansk only five days, but there were probably 5,000 pictures taken of DAUNTLESS. In summary, the cruising itself is sublime. It’s like New England, without the lobster pots or crabby fisherman. Oh, and with less boats and people!

Observations on the Countries Visited: Sweden

Sweden was the absolute best. When DAUNTLESS and I return to Europe, it will be to go to Sweden and maybe never leave. In Sweden, the rule regarding public shoreline access is simply that you should not walk through someone’s private garden or kitchen. I am not exaggerating. That’s what the rule says. Someone may own an entire island, or more likely just a beach-front property, and anyone with a boat may access the land and walk through the land as long as they do not intrude upon truly private areas, like a house, garden or kitchen. And the Swedes are as welcoming as their rules. Just writing this, makes me want to go back. Now.

While Finland and Sweden have similar topographies, the citizens have entirely different mentalities. In Finland, the rule for stopping, anchoring, and trying to come ashore is that you cannot anchor in sight of a house. There are so many islands, so it’s not that hard, but… Also, Finland had the most expensive dockage of any place in Northern Europe and had people that are… Let’s put it this way, Finns compared to Swedes, Germans seem like Italians.


The people were the absolute best. No better. The food was also the best of anyplace in Northern Europe. In the train station of Warsaw, I had a dinner that was as good as ever, beef cheeks. I did not even know they had cheeks!


Our favorite in the south half of the Baltic. Here, I also met English and German sailboats and we pretty much stayed together for a few weeks. Few speak English, but the people were again, just so nice and appreciative that we stopped! Also, the best prices for a Euro based county.


Absolutely wonderful cruising grounds. Somewhat like Scandinavia, but with strong tides and currents. Less sheltered from the wind, but beautiful scenery, wonderful people, and whiskey at every stop!


There are three places that I will return with DAUNTLESS sooner or later: Poland, Sweden, and Ireland. Ireland has the friendliest people in all of Europe. Knowing Europe as well as I do, I am embarrassed to say it took me so long to find this emerald, sitting for all to see. The cruising is more challenging than anyplace in Scandinavia or even Scotland. If I had to get major work done on the boat, hands down, Ireland would be number one choice.

Language, or lack thereof.

In the last 10 years, I have seen a significate change in what is expected in communicating in Europe. It’s clear that in the sea-going and boating community, English, just like in aviation, has become the official language. Virtually everyone from someplace else traveling by boat, speaks English if they expect to be understood. Germans to talk to Finns and Estonians in English, etc. Even the French do not expect an English-speaking captain to talk French. I have yet to be in a marina in which there is not at least one person who speaks English. That’s the good news. The bad news, or not so bad depending upon your perspective, is that there is very little VHF traffic. Boats only seem to contact other boats if they are of the same nationality. Otherwise, it’s expected that everyone knows the rules of the road, etc. A Dutchman told me that even though many Dutch do speak English, they do not like talking on the VHF because everyone can hear them. Meaning, they will speak English one-one-one with no problem, but call them on the radio and they will not respond. I had two radio calls in the first two years in Northern Europe.

Coming down the coast of Portugal, I received a radio call. They called me three times before I finally recognized “DAUNTLESS” through the accent. I responded and got an unclear answer. I looked at my chart again, and realized that I was headed for a restricted area for ships in need of a pilot to enter the port of Porto. I called back and apologized for the confusion, and promptly changed course to give the restricted area a wider berth. In hindsight, I bet they saw the AIS and thought I was a ship needing a pilot. They were probably trying to tell me that I did not have to go so far south, but to take a course closer to the river mouth, where they would pick me up. The lack of response told me they were embarrassed.

The lesson here is simply, when it comes to language, it’s not about you, but more often about the people who are trying to communicate with you and their lack of English.

I hope all of this has been helpful and gives you an idea what to expect if your Kadey-Krogen is in Northern Europe and Scandinavia. Should you have any specific questions, feel free to contact me directly at: DAUNTLESSNY@gmail.com.